Friday

16th Nov 2018

Italy slammed by court over forced return of migrants to Libya

  • Strasbourg court rules against Italy's decision to send migrants back to Libya (Photo: nobordernetwork)

The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday (23 February) ruled that Italy’s decision to send fleeing refugees and African migrants crossing the Mediterranean back to Libya was a violation of fundamental human rights.

“Returning migrants to Libya without examining their case exposed them to a risk of ill-treatment and amounted to collective expulsion,” said the Strasbourg court.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The ruling could have widespread implications for EU member states on how they handle and treat every intercepted individual seeking asylum outside their territory said the Italian Council of Refugees, which brought the lawsuit against Italy.

The perilous 620km journey across the sea to Italy’s Lampedusa island by refugees and migrants last year saw 1,500 lives lost as boats overturned and sunk. The more fragile succumbed to dehydration and exposure.

Others, in their attempt to reach salvation in a Europe they thought would be welcoming, were instead faced with an Italian military instructed by Rome to send them back to Tripoli.

In May 2009, the Italians forced the return of 200 people, including 11 Somalian and 13 Eritrean nationals who then took their case to Strasbourg and upon whom Thursday’s verdict is based.

The Italian coastguard picked them up some 50km south of Lampedusa and transferred them to Italian military vessels. All 200 were led to believe they were heading to Italy but were then handed over to Libyan authorities upon landing in Tripoli.

Italy argued in its defence that Libya was a “safe country” and that the migrants picked up by its vessels had never expressed any clear desire to seek refuge in Italy.

“They were in the water for 23 hours so its ridiculous to pretend that they should have to ask for asylum while onboard. They were in a bad state,” Antoni Giulio Lana, an attorney representing the victims, told this website by phone from Rome.

The bilateral agreement between Italy and Libya to return migrants to Libya remains intact since it was first introduced in February 2009. Italy’s former Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, from the anti-immigrant Lega Nord party, said at the time the agreement was instrumental in the fight against “illegal immigration” and that it discourages human trafficking.

"The European Court took a wrong decision. I'm absolutely sure that everything was done respecting European laws. Those provisions saved many human lives that would have been put at risk during the trips attempting to reach Italy," Maroni told Italian press on Thursday.

The new court ruling could see Prime Minister Mario Monti’s technocrat government to review the agreement penned by former prime minister Berlusconi, said Lana. The agreement was temporarily suspended in February last year following the Libyan uprising.

In Tripoli, fourteen of the 200 defendants had been granted refugee status by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) between June and October 2009. But Colonel Gadhafi, Libya's former leader, kicked out the UNHCR in 2010. This was followed by reports that the country’s remaining refugees hid themselves away in deplorable conditions and suffered widespread abuse. Many, including those granted refugee status by the UNHCR, feared the Libyans would mistake them for Gadhafi’s mercenaries.

Italy also suspected some of the passengers were potentially dangerous and allegedly planted by Colonel Gadhafi in retaliation for Rome’s decision to allow NATO to launch strikes from its territory. “We can’t be sure there are no terrorists on board,” said Maroni in March.

The UNHCR believes more than 1,000 migrants, including pregnant women and children, were intercepted and forcibly returned to Libya by Italy without an assessment of their need for protection.

The 200 people are currently dispersed throughout several countries including Tunisia, Cyprus and Malta. Only one managed to return to Italy and was subsequently granted refugee status.

“Many have since fled and disappeared since the war in Libya,” said Lana, adding that all are entitled to return to Italy to seek asylum and receive each a €15,000 pay-out by the government following the court ruling.

France and Italy acted against 'spirit' of EU border laws

Both France and Italy acted within the law when they imposed measures against the thousands of Tunisian immigrants earlier this year, but they breached the "spirit" of the EU's freedom of movement agreement, the EU commission has said.

Romania data chief defends forcing press to reveal sources

Romania's data protection authority is headed by Ancuta Gianina Opre, who in 2017 was charged with abuse of office in her previous job. Last week, she threatened a €20m fine against journalists in their effort to uncover corruption.

EU warns Romania not to abuse GDPR against press

Romania's data protection authority has threatened a €20m fine against reporters investigating high-level corruption. The European Commission has since issued a warning, telling Romanian authorities to give press exemptions when it comes to privacy rights.

News in Brief

  1. US warns EU banks and firms against trading with Iran
  2. Merkel urged Romania not to move embassy to Jerusalem
  3. Protesters call for Czech leader to step down
  4. Former German chancellor labelled 'enemy' of Ukraine
  5. French lead opposition to Brexit deal on fisheries
  6. Private accounts of Danske Bank employees investigated
  7. UK's May defends Brexit deal to MPs, after ministers resign
  8. Brexit MP calls for 'no confidence' vote on May

Opinion

Interpol, China and the EU

China joins a long list of countries - including Russia - accused of abusing Interpol's 'Red Notice' system to harras activists and dissidents.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. How the EU commission got tunnel vision on self-driving cars
  2. No-confidence calls against May put Brexit deal in doubt
  3. Key points of the Brexit deal (if it ever comes into effect)
  4. Romania heaps scorn on 'revolting' EU criticism
  5. US steps in to clean up Cyprus
  6. 'Decisive progress' on Brexit as British cabinet backs deal
  7. Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM puts Orban on spot
  8. How the 'EU's Bank' fails to raise the bar on accountability

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us